Indian Bank Employees Strike Against Privatization
Indian's financial system was thrown into chaos Wednesday by a day-long strike by 1.5 million bank employees protesting against plans to reduce the government's stake in state-run banks.
"The strike is total. Not a single bank branch is unaffected as even the officers are part of the strike," said Suresh Dhopeshwarkar, secretary of the communist-led All India Bank Employees Association.
Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday reiterated the government's determination to pass a bill cutting the government's stake in India's 19 nationalized banks from 51 percent to 33 percent.
Wednesday's strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions, an umbrella group of nine unions.
Union leader Dhopeshwarkar said bank employees would hold protest rallies all over Bombay -- India's financial hub.
"Rallies have been planned all over the country. We are determined to halt the privatization of banks," he said.
However, officials at two state-run banks said the strike had led to only a partial disruption of services.
"Most of our branches are open. You can go in and transact business," said a spokeswoman at Bank of Baroda.
"The branch managers have reported for work," a Bank of India spokesman said. "If you want to withdraw cash and are in a hurry the managers will help you out."
Reports said the one-day strike would hold up the clearing of about 2.2 million cheques worth about 250 billion rupees (5.8 billion dollars).
Union leaders have warned of an indefinite strike later this month if the government does not give up its privatization plans.
Dhopeshwarkar said Wednesday's strike was also against several banks introducing a voluntary retirement scheme for employees.
Most of India's state-run banks are in the red. The unions attribute this to political interference and willful defaults by industrial houses -- BOMBAY (AFP)
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